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More Korean women in 30s suffer sleep disorders

The number of South Korean women in their 30s who sought medical help for sleep disorders -- such as insomnia and restless legs syndrome -- increased significantly from 2012-2014, partly because of poor work and life balance, government data showed Monday.

According to data, the number of female sleep disorder patients rose from 24,536 in 2012 to 28,930 in 2014, with the highest average annual increase rate among all gender and age groups at 10.4 percent. The number of all Korean sleep disorder patients increased from 358,000 to 414,000 in the same period, with an average yearly increase rate of 7.6 percent. As of last year, 59.5 percent of all sleep disorder patients were women.

Experts pointed out that one of the reasons a growing number of Korean women in their 30s are suffering from sleep disorders has to do with their poor work and life balance, as well as child care-related stress.

“Child care-related stress can be one of the main causes of sleep disorders for women in their 30s, especially for those who feel overly pressured or overwhelmed by child care,” said psychiatrist Seo Ho-seok from Cha Gangnam Medical Center in Seoul.

“Working mothers, in particular, tend to sleep more on weekends than weekdays, as they get more support with child care from their family members on Saturdays and Sundays. But this sleeping pattern -- not sleeping enough on weekdays and trying to catch up on sleep on weekends -- can actually lead to developing a sleep disorder.”

The doctor also said work-related stress, such as long work hours or conflicts with colleagues or a boss, may cause sleep disorders.

The number of male patients in their 30s, on the other hand, was significantly lower than their female counterparts. In 2012, 16,770 men in their 30s were treated for the condition, while 18,806 of them -- significantly fewer than the number of women patients of the same age group at 28,930 -- sought medical help for the same condition last year.

Studies have shown that those who are consistently sleep deprived -- getting less than seven to eight hours nightly -- have a higher risk of depression, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. In 2013, a single Korean person on average slept less than seven hours a day, which was the lowest among the countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Also in the same year, Koreans worked the second-most hours among members of the OECD, 30 percent more than the OECD average.

Meanwhile, medical costs spent to treat all sleep disorder patients increased by 28.8 percent from 2012-2014, from 35.9 billion won ($30.6 million) to 46.3 billion won. 

By Claire Lee (